Understanding Elder Abuse

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Every year, hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable part of the population are negatively impacted by elder abuse. Elder abuse victims may be vulnerable – both mentally and physically. They may also be frail or even helpless against their abuser.

Elderly individuals typically want to age with dignity. They have just as much self-respect, emotional integrity and feelings as anyone else. Unfortunately, many elderly individuals are victimized every year by the very same people who are supposed to protect them.

Types of Elder Abuse

Elder abuse refers to the intentional, knowing act by a caregiver or other individual that causes harm to the elderly individual or puts them in the position that they are likely to be seriously harmed. Elder abuse occurs in every state. Due to the prevalence of this systemic issue, each state has passed some type of elder abuse prevention law. There are a variety of different types of elder abuse, including the following:

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is often the easiest form of abuse to recognize due to the victim suffering injuries or having physical manifestations of the abuse inflicted. Physical abuse can be any type of physical contact between the perpetrator and the victim including squeezing, biting, pinching, kicking, slapping, pushing, shoving or punching. It can also include restraining the elderly individual, over-medicating the individual or giving unnecessary sedatives to the elderly individual in an attempt to control him or her.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse occurs when the perpetrator imposes unwanted non-consensual sexual contact on the elderly individual. This type of abuse may include forcing the elderly individual to undress or to watch pornographic films or see footage of this nature.
Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse refers to humiliating, threatening, shaming, making derogatory comments, isolating or intimidating an elderly individual through verbal means.

Financial Exploitation

Financial exploitation involves taking advantage of an elderly individuals assets, income or other resources. It may consist of writing checks on behalf of the victim to the perpetrator, withdrawing funds in an authorized manner from a checking account, savings account, ATM machine or benefit card. Many individuals who financially exploit elderly victims do so by stealing their identity, pretending to be them and taking out credit cards or otherwise establishing debt that is attributed to the victim. Other forms of financial exploitation include stealing the elderly individual’s personal belongings or having the elderly individual change his or her will, trust or estate plan to benefit the perpetrator.


While forms of abuse are based on intentional conduct, neglect is based on the failure to ensure the proper hygiene, feeding, nutrition, shelter or healthcare for an individual due to the legal duty to do so.


For many victims of elder abuse, silence is the response. An elderly individual may not have the physical or mental capacity to effectively communicate what is going on. In other cases, the elderly individual may fear losing his or her independence if he or she speaks up. Often, the perpetrator threatens this and the victim believes it.

Staying Alert

Due to these problems, it is important for family members and friends to stay alert. They should be on the lookout for common signs of abuse, including unexplained physical injuries, restraint marks or bruising. They should also be cognizant of any signs of sexual abuse, such as soiled or bloody undergarments, bruising around the inner thighs or genital area or the acquiring of a sexually transmitted disease.

Financial abuse may be evidenced by a sudden change of an estate plan, missing property, large cash withdrawals or someone suddenly pulling strings regarding finances who did not previously have this access.
Other signs of abuse or neglect include poor hygiene, unclean living areas, unexplained weight loss, arguments with the staff, sudden changes in mood or behavior, isolation or socially withdrawing.

Legal Assistance

AS a family member or someone who loves the elderly individual, it is important to be vigilant in making sure that caregivers are treating the individual with care and respect. For many individuals, placing a loved one in a nursing home is a difficult but necessary decision. For this reason, professional caregivers are sought to provide the care that is beyond the ability of the family. Unfortunately, elder abuse is a significant problem that should not be ignored. If you believe something does not feel right, you should further investigate. In the case of nursing homes, many caregivers are overworked. Nursing homes may be short-staffed due to low employment wages and high turnover. Caregiver burnout is also common among family members. When caregivers suffer from these conditions, the patient may receive subpar care.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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